Today I read a very amusing post by Janey of Cupid or Cats about 10 things we do repeatedly.
(Which you should go read because it’s quite a good laugh. 😉 )
There was one in particular which caught my attention, # 6. “When we become frustrated with our inanimate objects, we shout at them.”
So I wrote her a comment which I’m mostly going to copy paste here, because I thought I did a good job explaining the phenomena that causes us to freak out at our possessions.
Why we yell at inanimate objects: The intentional mode.
We evolved an ‘intentional mode’ to deal with two things: Non-human predators trying to eat us, and other humans trying to trick us.
The first one can be called the assumptive startle effect. That’s when you see a coat or a bush and think it’s a man, or an animal, out of the corner of your eye and get startled.
It was better to get scared than get killed, and predators had intent the *WANT* to eat, so our brain extends this, in a self-preservation sort of way to the idea that they *want* to eat *us* the individual. The reason for this being the default assumption is obvious if you think about what was at stake for most of our evolution:
Assume a shadow is an animal- get scared feel silly.
Don’t assume a shadow is an animal, and it really is a predator- get killed.
The brain has no reason to get rid of that startle response because there’s no evolutionary pressure that makes it detrimental.
This is why our brain thinks that every coat rack is secretly plotting to kill us. It assumes any shadow must be a thing waiting to capitalize on our unaware state and cause our downfall.
But once the brain has a mechanism it sometimes gets sloppy. So we don’t just assume the things that startle us are out to get us, no we also have this slosh over into all things that hurt us. It starts the same way though.
We didn’t think we were that close to the table before we bumped into it, so we get hurt and startled at the same time. “The table jumped out at me, man!”
It’s easier for our brain to place blame and assume the table *Wanted* to hurt us, because our brain already thinks that. Along with assuming every damn shadow is filled with *purposefully* lurking doom.
This brings us to the social aspect of our assumed intent, and predator avoidance. Avoiding predation in the form of other humans tricking us.
Humans cumulatively as a whole, lie a lot, trick each other a lot, and try to plot each others downfall a lot.
Often enough we have used inanimate objects (like traps) to do that. But whether it was in games or warfare, other humans really were plotting things.
It’s easy to understand why we’d start seeing otherwise innocuous things as potential threats because we think there’s a human intent behind them.
So the second thing our brain assumes is that objects which don’t behave as we’d expect them too, (like leaves lying weirdly over a pit trap) are trying to trick us.
Once we have half a lifetime* of our brain assuming coffee tables really *want* to eat our shins, and knowing that most things we have are made by other humans. We have a fair amount of ingrained reasons to yell at an object which isn’t co-operating with us.
We assume intent. If it doesn’t work how we expect, surely it must be plotting something, it’s hiding something. Maybe it’s being used. Maybe the reason it was created in the first place was to destroy our psyche.
None of that is of course true, but there you have it, those are our defaults. To assume everything is trying to eat us, lie to us, and frustrate us. Most importantly that all of those things are *on purpose*.
The intentional mode, because if the vacuum “disagrees” with your plan to clean today, it’s clearly plotting your doom.
*turn of phrase, lots of people do this in childhood, I know I did. It’s not an age based phenomena.
Perhaps if some people are keen to answer a question: What was your favourite startle or annoyance at an inanimate object? 🙂